Can I access my 403(b) plan before retirement?

Dear Benny:
Can I access money in my 403(b) account without being penalized? Can I also stop making retirement contributions at any time or is there only one set time per year when I can do this?
—Flummoxed about funds

Dear Flummoxed,
Let’s start with your second question since it involves a more straightforward answer.

Yes, you may stop making retirement contributions at any time simply by visiting the Human Resources retirement website: www.hr.upenn.edu/Benefits/Retirement/Default.aspx. You can also contact the Retirement Call Center at 1-877-PENN-RET (1-877-736-6738) if you’d like to stop making contributions.

As for your first question, the answer depends upon your circumstances. There are two separate 403(b) Plans at Penn—the Tax Deferred Retirement (TDR) Plan and the Supplemental Retirement Annuity (SRA) Plan.

Under the TDR Plan, you contribute up to 5 percent of your pay and Penn matches that amount, up to 5 percent. Generally, you’re not permitted to access the funds from your account in the TDR Plan until you retire or decide to leave Penn.

Under the SRA Plan, you make pre-tax contributions that are not matched by Penn. The provisions of the SRA Plan do permit you to access your account, while employed, when you reach 59 1/2 years of age or if you incur a financial hardship (though certain restrictions apply).

More information on permitted distributions can be found on the Human Resources website: www.hr.upenn.edu/Benefits/Retirement/Distributions.aspx.

Keep in mind, however, that you will be penalized for withdrawing from the retirement plans if you are under 59 1/2 years of age. Generally, the IRS imposes a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

In addition, any withdrawal would be subject to federal withholding tax.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on September 3, 2009